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SpartanNash Company’s (NASDAQ:SPTN) Investment Returns Are Lagging Its Industry

Asher Wright

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Today we’ll evaluate SpartanNash Company (NASDAQ:SPTN) to determine whether it could have potential as an investment idea. In particular, we’ll consider its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), as that can give us insight into how profitably the company is able to employ capital in its business.

Firstly, we’ll go over how we calculate ROCE. Then we’ll compare its ROCE to similar companies. And finally, we’ll look at how its current liabilities are impacting its ROCE.

Return On Capital Employed (ROCE): What is it?

ROCE is a metric for evaluating how much pre-tax income (in percentage terms) a company earns on the capital invested in its business. Generally speaking a higher ROCE is better. In brief, it is a useful tool, but it is not without drawbacks. Author Edwin Whiting says to be careful when comparing the ROCE of different businesses, since ‘No two businesses are exactly alike.’

So, How Do We Calculate ROCE?

The formula for calculating the return on capital employed is:

Return on Capital Employed = Earnings Before Interest and Tax (EBIT) ÷ (Total Assets – Current Liabilities)

Or for SpartanNash:

0.074 = US$130m ÷ (US$2.1b – US$518m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to October 2018.)

So, SpartanNash has an ROCE of 7.4%.

See our latest analysis for SpartanNash

Is SpartanNash’s ROCE Good?

One way to assess ROCE is to compare similar companies. In this analysis, SpartanNash’s ROCE appears meaningfully below the 9.6% average reported by the Consumer Retailing industry. This performance could be negative if sustained, as it suggests the business may underperform its industry. Separate from how SpartanNash stacks up against its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms is mediocre; relative to the returns on government bonds. It is possible that there are more rewarding investments out there.

NASDAQGS:SPTN Last Perf February 13th 19

When considering ROCE, bear in mind that it reflects the past and does not necessarily predict the future. ROCE can be deceptive for cyclical businesses, as returns can look incredible in boom times, and terribly low in downturns. ROCE is, after all, simply a snap shot of a single year. What happens in the future is pretty important for investors, so we have prepared a free report on analyst forecasts for SpartanNash.

Do SpartanNash’s Current Liabilities Skew Its ROCE?

Current liabilities are short term bills and invoices that need to be paid in 12 months or less. Due to the way ROCE is calculated, a high level of current liabilities makes a company look as though it has less capital employed, and thus can (sometimes unfairly) boost the ROCE. To counteract this, we check if a company has high current liabilities, relative to its total assets.

SpartanNash has total liabilities of US$518m and total assets of US$2.1b. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 25% of its total assets. It is good to see a restrained amount of current liabilities, as this limits the effect on ROCE.

The Bottom Line On SpartanNash’s ROCE

With that in mind, we’re not overly impressed with SpartanNash’s ROCE, so it may not be the most appealing prospect. You might be able to find a better buy than SpartanNash. If you want a selection of possible winners, check out this free list of interesting companies that trade on a P/E below 20 (but have proven they can grow earnings).

For those who like to find winning investments this free list of growing companies with recent insider purchasing, could be just the ticket.

To help readers see past the short term volatility of the financial market, we aim to bring you a long-term focused research analysis purely driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis does not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements.

The author is an independent contributor and at the time of publication had no position in the stocks mentioned. For errors that warrant correction please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com.